Patrick Vieira has seen much of the European soccer landscape. His illustrious career saw him feature for clubs in England, France and Italy while playing in countless matches against Europe’s biggest clubs.
On Sunday, Vieira coached one of MLS’ biggest clubs against another pushing the boundaries and, when all was said and done, what he saw was progress.
New York City FC’s clash with Atlanta United was a battle of marquee teams. On one side, you have NYCFC, led by Vieira, David Villa and one of the deepest international rosters in the league. On the other, there was Atlanta United, the league’s big spenders that have brought in a lot of elite talent under Tata Martino.
The match lived up to the hype, as both sides showed legitimate quality in a thrilling 2-2 draw in Atlanta. Given the talent on the field and the atmosphere surrounding it, Vieira left impressed.
“Look at the quality of both teams, the quality of the stadium, the quality of the fans,” Vieira said. “That wasn’t the case five years ago. I think MLS is moving to the right direction. The young international players who are coming to play in the U.S. raise the level of teams and the league.
“I strongly believe that in the next couple of years, MLS can compete against at least the French and some of the Championship teams to bring players. The quality is there. The atmosphere is there, and the money is getting better so that is good.”
The talent bought by that money was on full display on Sunday. Atlanta United star Miguel Almiron provided an assist. David Villa added a goal. Ezequiel Barco, the most expensive signing in league history, made his long-awaited debut for Atlanta.
But it’s not the talent at the top the influenced Vieira’s claim, because that has been there for some time. Rather, it’s the other players that contributed. It’s players like Greg Garza, Alexander Ring, Yangel Herrera and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez that are taking these types of games up a notch.
There’s also the atmosphere in Atlanta, one which Vieira admitted he was looking forward to experiencing.
“It is fantastic. I was really looking forward to coming here because watching games on TV, looking at the atmosphere, the fans, it is a tough place to come and play, of course,” he said. “The atmosphere is the best in this league. I think they stand out really high for the other teams to follow behind. This is part of improving the league and it is good to play football on a field like that.
“Yes, of course, it is a soccer atmosphere. I think it is important for international journalists to come over and to look at the stadium, to look at the quality of the games because I think the game today was a really good game of football. Tactically, it was really interesting and this is good for MLS.”
Both teams now look ahead to new challenges. Next up for NYCFC is a visit to a Portland Timbers team starting to find its way. Atlanta, meanwhile, now looks towards a star-studded clash with the LA Galaxy.
The two teams will hope for performances like Sunday’s as the tie was an impressive one to watch for all involved.
“That game tonight was a big game of football,” Vieira said. “When we look at the tactical side, two different teams with two different shapes. Tactically, I think it was a higher game of football. You have talent on both teams, and of course, the atmosphere, the stage makes it even bigger. For us, I think playing a few days ago, coming here and taking a point, I am really proud.”
“Yeah, I think it was a good game for both teams,” added Atlanta’s Julian Gressel. “They had spells. We had spells. They had chances. We had chances. I think it was probably a fun game to watch and definitely a fun one to play in.”